I Love Laxe!

So far, I have been amazingly fortunate on all counts. As you know, I've hopped into a lot of ports along my trip, becoming quite the expert on entering foreign harbours almost always in the dark, because poor Constellation takes so long, and also (mostly) because I can't stand the idea of waking up before 9am to sail. Which means, if you leave late, you arrive late... Coming into port at night is also a nice challenge after sitting at the helm all day. A challenge except when struck by terror. My first day out after spending 39 days in La Coruna had me chronically sea sick, having been on dry land far too long. I was vomiting over the side of Constellation every hour, for the entire nine hour journey. I was trying really hard to make my first day out a triumphant sail, by going non-stop to Bayona, which would have been a twenty four hour sail. I wanted to get around Finisterre quickly, knowing that bad weather was swiftly heading towards land from far out at sea.

If you've ever been sea sick, you know that while you're sick, you are depressed, tired, and you hate the sea with a great passion. But, after you throw up, you're all keen again. So, for the majority of every hour, I just wanted to sink Constellation and go sleep in front of a warm fire, on dry land. And then I'd be sick, and be back on track, ready to go non-stop to Bayona, often thinking 'to hell with it, I'm going non-stop to Lisbon!'. Some ten minutes later, I'd be back in the dumps, wondering how to safely sink the boat, launch the liferaft and not forget my wallet so I could get the next flight home.

In the end, after all the ups and downs of what to do and where to sail, I decided to just pull into Laxe. I looked in the pilot book, and there was supposed to be a small boat pontoon which I could tie up to. There were no marinas until Camarinas, and I thought I might get away with a free night or two on the pontoon, or if not, I could according to the pilot safely lay at anchor. I was still really sick, and on entrance into Laxe, I had made a severe navigational mistake. I kid you not, I was within seconds of sinking Constellation for real - And not because I wanted to (or maybe my deep subconscious had purposely altered my route, hoping to grant my secret wish).

I was diligently following my GPS route, but not following the track (ie. my course was in the right direction, but not in a perfectly straight line), as clearly the tide was pushing me to port. I was motoring along with a fairly large swell annoying me from the stern, when my peripheral vision picked up the whites of breaking waves. Directly in front of me, lay a rocky outcrop, which I was just about to crash into. Instinctively I reached down for the throttle and pushed 'August' the mighty Yanmar into full ahead, glancing down at the depth sounder as I did the fastest 180 degree turn in history, seeing it read three metres. I had two thoughts as I swung around, the first being 'three metres oh my God!!!' (that's the watered down version) and the second being 'at least when I shipwreck, I can sit on the rocks as they are high enough above the water and wait until morning'. Thankfully, I was fast enough, and I motored away, shivering with cold, stress and sickness. I marked my current position, and derived a new safer waypoint from the Pilot chartlet to home in on. This all took longer than expected, it was such a dark night, the moon was nowhere to be seen, and everytime I was sitting in the cockpit trying to create a new route into Laxe, Constellation seemed to want to steer back into the rocks.

When my navigation was under control, I closed Laxe, and as I did, the smell of land hit me. You never seem to notice the loss of the earths smell on departure, yet on arrival, it literally smells like someone has placed a handful of earth under your nose. This time there was the mixed smell of wood smoke, and I could feel my sea sickness being left at sea. Eventually I arrived at 10pm, looking everywhere for the small boat pontoon. It was nowhere to be found... Fishermen on the breakwater were eagerly watching me motor in circles as I wondered what to do. The swell was up and there was no way I could safely anchor, even with the new fifty metre nylon rode I bought so I could spend more time with the hook down. I decided to sail into the breakwater and tie up on the inside of the breakwater wall where all the fishing boats were sitting on buoys. In hindsight, I should have just picked up an unused buoy, but I was concerned about what the buoys were attached to, and having such a large audience on the wall, I thought it best not to annoy anyone by stealing their ships parking spot in plain view.

I motored into the calm protected harbour, and prepared Constellation to sit against the high wall. A group of people came by as I motored up, taking my lines and tying Constellation up. No one really spoke English, but everyone was interested to see the small boat flying a foreign flag. I took out my pilot book and asked where the small boat pontoon was - Apparently it is only 'installed' in summer! There was no port authority or irritable bureaucracy to deal with, and I was happy to be on land again. Constellation took a battering against the wall, so now she unfortunately has pink marks along her sides, showing her undercoat through three coats of enamel. I was very concerned the swell would smash the spreaders against the wall, but thankfully the swell was only mild on the inside, and paintwork can always be repaired.

The next day, a fisherman came onboard, and told me ten metre waves were forecast, and that I should tie Constellation up on a buoy, and sleep in a hotel. I was as you can imagine, somewhat concerned. I tried to motion that I was not going to motor onto a buoy as the winds were already too strong, and that I would stay with the boat. He then said to me with great seriousness, that if it became too bad, I must leave the boat, as there are many yachts, but only one life. I went from being concerned to being very, very concerned, verging on plain frightened. The little port was well protected, but if a local tells you such things, surely it must only be natural go from concerned to petrified. So throughout the night, I woke up every hour to check the lines and ensure the weather hadn't deteriorated too badly. The winds did increase to great strength, with Constellation pinned to the breakwater wall, her paintwork taking a serious beating, yet it was nothing too terrifying or life threatening.

The morning after, the same fisherman arrived again with his brother. He said the weather was going to get worse, and that he was going to help me move onto a buoy, having phoned around to find a free one. He insisted that I was going to stay with his brother until Tuesday when the weather was predicted to improve. There was little possibility to argue, as most of this was understood through sign language or broken single words. We moved Constellation over, another fisherman helping with his rowboat. Quickly and under-prepared, I took a few things from the boat and was rowed ashore. The brothers drove past a friend and knocked on his door, exclaiming he was excellent in English, and would explain what was going on. As the door opened, I was greeted with a thick London accent, yet the friend (who turned out to be a cousin) also spoke impeccable Spanish. He explained everything, and I was rushed off to Miguels house. I was expecting to be sleeping on the couch with a big family on the hill, but was genuinely suprised when I was handed the keys to a completely furnished top story apartment, with a view of the sea! I was lost for words, as Miguel showed me around, turned on the TV, and said his mother would bring food in two hours! I lay down for a bit, and on queue, Miguels mother appeared, with a huge pot of homemade spinach stew, bread, milk, cans of beer, coffee, salami, cheese, yoghurt and tuna. I was literally dumbfounded with the incredible show of generosity. I was, and still am, lost for words; and not only Spanish ones.

I spent the day relaxing, yet nervous about Constellation. I also hadn't brought enough clothes with me, being in a rush after tying up. As I was rowed ashore by another fishermen, I had no rowboat, or dinghy to get back... Poor Constellation was out there on her own, and I had no real way to go aboard. I eagerly went out to borrow a row boat, but whimped out at the thought of stealing someone else's boat without asking Miguel about row-boat-etiquette. Somewhat disappointed, I went back to the apartment, drank coffee, and tried to watch Four Weddings and a Funeral. It was a rather painful event, seeing Hugh Grant overdubbed in Spain's very own Spanish-Speaking-Hugh-Grant-Voice-Alike, but I had little else to do, and it was blowing a hoolie outside. I understood nothing of the film, and found myself not really watching, but rather just worrying about my little stranded boat, biting my nails and channel surfing for English programs. It didn't help that between the TV breaks, reports would come up in the news, talking about the horrific weather, showing pictures of huge waves crashing against the coastlines of Galicia.

The following day I walked around the town, and worked out the row boat laws - You simply borrow one when you need it. At lunch, Miguels mother again turned up with an armful of amazing food, this time a huge potato fritata, bread, and extra milk. I just wish I had more Spanish to express my thanks, beyond 'Gracias, gracias, gracias muchos gracias!'.

I spent the rest of the day meandering far up into the hills, going in a southwest direction, scoping out where I was to be sailing next. The area was stunning, with the days walk being well worth the trouble of coming into Laxe. Everywhere I went, dogs barked at me, which always makes me feel like I'm a criminal or being told off for something - I'm sure that feeling has some kind of deep-set freudian meaning, but lets not there...

I came home at dusk, attempting to watch Spanish TV again, but still nothing made sense (how suprising). I ended up reading a Webb Chiles book and leafing through the Atlantic Islands pilot guide, taking special note of average temperatures... I'm really getting tired of being in the tail end of the nice weather - I want warm waters, t-shirts and an excess of swimming. Alas, the true temperatures I pine for (30c+) will not be too frequent until I reach the Caribbean, some (seemingly) two million miles away. I will end this post with a quote from Chiles himself, whom I have had the fine fortune of discussing sailing matters with, and who has taken the time to answer my questions with great pragmatism.

"To me a voyage is essentially an act of will and a testing of the human spirit. If a sailor doesn't learn anything more important from the sea than how to reef a sail, the voyage wasn't worth making. One of the pleasures in setting out on a voyage is not knowing where the sea will lead. On a voyage a sailor is at risk. On a voyage a sailor knows he is truly alive. A voyage is not an escape from life; it is a reach for life."

nick (click here for a few more photos of Laxe)